Paul's Passing Thoughts

Can Christians Really Be “Self-Righteous”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on July 6, 2015

self rightousnessThere are many, many Protestant misnomers that are assumed to be truth. In the past I have written about so-called “legalism” and “church discipline.” Neither concepts are found anywhere in the Bible. In this short post, we will mention another one: “self-righteousness,” specifically, the idea that a Christian can be “self-righteous.” If you get my point here, you may reconsider your incredulity regarding the aforementioned misnomers.

Actually, there is a reason that we hear the constant literary and verbal drumbeat regarding the dangers of so-called Christian self-righteousness; the root cause is found in Martin Luther’s alien righteousness soteriology. Many have added the self-righteousness mantra to their vocabulary without thinking the idea through to its logical and historical conclusions.

First of all, the problem is presenting Christian self-righteousness as something to be avoided lest we shipwreck our faith. In other words, answering the biblical call to become who we are will supposedly shipwreck our faith. God made us righteous through the new birth; how would we then make ourselves “self-righteous”? If we have a proper understanding of salvation, why would we attempt to do something that we know is already completed? Because of weak understanding, believers have been led to believe that we are in danger of justifying ourselves. Obviously, this makes good works a spiritual minefield for the Christian. A cursory observation of the institutional church makes this point.

This was Paul’s exact point to the Galatians (3:1-3); why are you trying to complete a work that was finished when you received the Spirit? We are made righteous via the new birth, not the satisfaction of…”the righteous demands of the law.” Understand; when Paul speaks of righteousness by the law in Galatians, he is speaking of manmade traditions that fulfill the law for justification. In other words, the law is the standard for justification—not the receiving of the Spirit.

This is a HUGE problem because if the law is the standard for justification, the believer cannot be free to love, ie., the law cannot be the Christian standard for love AND the standard for justification at the same time. Using the law lawfully for love can show that we are justified/righteous, but the law cannot justify in any way, shape, or form.

Hypothetically, if the law could justify, we would have to keep it perfectly:

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

What’s going on here? The Galatians were buying into the most common false soteriology of the ages; the idea that the law is the standard for righteousness instead of the new birth. This does not set the Christian free to use the law lawfully, or in other words, as a standard for love:

Galatians  4:21 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

So, for those who see the law as the standard for justification, and knowing that we cannot keep the law perfectly, some ritual or tradition is put into place, and if that is practiced, the law is fulfilled. For those falling into this error at Galatia, that meant the observance of days and circumcision. Paul, in essence was saying, “No, no, no—if you are going that route you cannot bypass a perfect keeping of the law; circumcision does NOT fulfill the law.”

No, LOVE is what fulfills the law.

The Galatian problem was a carryover from former error before Christ came to die on the cross to end the law, but later in history Christ was integrated in this way:

Christ fulfills the law for us.

If we do certain things, Christ fulfills the “righteous demands of the law” and a fulfillment of the law is imputed to us. But here is the huge problem with that: law is still the standard for justification, NOT faith working through love. Hence, love is circumvented resulting in dead orthodoxy at best and sinful calamity at worst.

This was the crux of Martin Luther’s alien righteousness. ALL righteousness is outside of the believer, and this is testified to by the fact that Christians cannot obey the law perfectly. If we play by the rules, Christ’s perfect law-keeping will be imputed to us and we can remain saved. Again, the problem is law as justification’s standard.

This keeps the “Christian” under law and COVERED by under grace. In this ancient construct, you have under law and under grace going on at the same time. The “Christian” remains under law, but is “covered” by the righteousness of Christ via under grace.

In contrast, the old us that was under law died with Christ, and we were resurrected with Christ and set free to love according to the law without any fear of condemnation via being under the law. Christ came to end the law of condemnation for those who love him. He loved us first by ending the law on the cross and thereby setting us free to love Him and others according to the law.

The law is NOT the standard for justification—the new birth is, and thus freeing us to love God and others without fear of condemnation.

BUT, this whole idea that Christians can be “self-righteous” confounds under law and under grace. Any righteousness that we have must be, supposedly, our own righteousness that didn’t come from the new birth. This is the true implication of the saying. ALL righteousness remains outside of the believer because he/she cannot keep the law perfectly.

Therefore, the “Christian” is not free to love without fear of condemnation. And again, the church looks like that is indeed the case.


One Response

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  1. John said, on April 28, 2017 at 12:45 PM

    Luther should have nailed himself to the castle’s door instead; the confused, foul-mouthed, Jew-hating, women-hating bigot that he was. This man of “god” who represents the imaginary “act of god” Reformation was deeply disturbed, and he and his fellow deceivers (including those still spreading this rubbish today) have brought only darkness. Not one inch of light.


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